Death (Tarot card)

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"Death card" redirects here. For the playing card, see Ace of spades.
Death (XIII)

Death (XIII) is the thirteenth trump or Major Arcana card in most traditional Tarot decks. It is used in Tarot, tarock and tarocchi games as well as in divination.


The Death card usually depicts a skeleton, sometimes riding a horse but more often wielding a sickle. Surrounding it are dead and dying people from all classes, including kings, bishops and commoners. The Rider-Waite tarot deck depicts the skeleton carrying a black standard emblazoned with a white flower along with the Crashing Towers from The Moon with The Sun rising behind them in the background. Some decks, such as the Tarot of Marseilles, omit the name from the card.

Rider-Waite symbolism[edit]

  • The king is trampled by a reaping skeleton horseman, as the Pictorial Key to the Tarot describes him, which appears to be a personification of death. The fall of the king may represent the importance and magnitude of the critical event of this card, or that death takes us all equally.
  • The reaper carries a black banner emblazoned with the Mystic Rose, which according to Waite symbolises life or rebirth.
  • As in other cards, the gray background may indicate uncertainty surrounding this event.
  • The bishop may represent faith in the face of death, faith in the divine plan, and faith that "God works in mysterious ways".
  • The maiden seeming distraught by the fall of the king represents the sorrow and great pain that often accompanies death.
  • The child, seemingly entranced by the occurrence, may represent bewilderment or curiosity.
  • In the darkness behind, according to Waite's PKT, lies the whole world of ascent in the spirit.
    • Although some believe the New Jerusalem appears as a silhouette across the Sun,[1] it does not appear clearly enough to be certain and may instead be the tops of The Moon's mountains.
The Grim Reaper as a personification of Death is a common motif in European iconography; here, he illustrates a poem on the danse macabre.


A. E. Waite was a key figure in the development of modern Tarot interpretations. However, not all interpretations follow his model.[2]

Some frequent keywords used by tarot readers for the interpretation of Death are:

  • Ending of a cycle — Loss — Conclusion — Sadness
  • Transition into a new state — Psychological transformation
  • Finishing up — Regeneration — Elimination of old patterns
  • Being caught in the inescapable — Good-byes — Deep change

According to Eden Gray and other authors on the subject, it is unlikely that this card actually represents a physical death. Typically it implies an end, possibly of a relationship or interest, and therefore implies an increased sense of self-awareness—not to be confused with self-consciousness or any kind of self-diminishment.[3][4]

Other versions[edit]

  • In X/1999, a manga by CLAMP, the Tarot set Death is Seishirou Sakurazuka.
  • In the Mythic Tarot deck, Death is depicted by Hades.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Death is the name of a boss in The House of the Dead III, depicted as a hulking security guard zombie with a club covered in human skulls. All bosses in The House of the Dead games are named for tarot cards of the Major Arcana.
  • Death 13 is the name of the Mannish Boy's Stand in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, appearing as a grim reaper with a clown's face that drags its victims in its nightmares, when they go to sleep near to his user. Most of the other Stands in Part III Stardust Crusaders are also named after Tarot Cards.
  • In the 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die, Solitaire is presented with a Death Tarot card by the villain Dr. Kananga after he learns she has betrayed him, essentially sentencing her to her execution.
  • In the 1996 video game Titanic: Adventure Out of Time, the player can win a Death Tarot card in a poker game. The death card serves as a free pass to the lifeboats.
  • In the Virtua Fighter series, Death is the name of one of the six branches of Judgment Six, the antagonistic sponsors of the fighting game series' tournaments. This particular branch manufactures atomic, biological, and chemical weapons.
  • In the SNES video game Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen, the Death Tarot card depicts a black-winged Grim Reaper skeleton wearing a tattered orange robe, holding a huge scythe and stepping forward. On drawing the card after liberation of one of the towns, it decreases the Reputation Meter by 2 points, and summons said Grim Reaper skeleton to wipe out weak enemy units, sending all the experience points from slain units to the main character when used in battle.[5]
  • The American metalcore band Sworn In's debut album is named The Death Card. The album cover depicts the flower shown on the flag that the reaper carries on the cover and also features the "XIII" symbol. To coincide with the XIII theme, the album carries 13 tracks and the band also used the "XIII" symbol and the flower on much of the band's merch to promote the album.


  1. ^ "Death". 
  2. ^ "Taro". 
  3. ^ Gray, Eden. The Complete Guide to the Tarot.
  4. ^ Bunning, Joan. Learning the Tarot.
  5. ^ "Ogre Battle - Tarot Cards". 

Further reading[edit]

  • A. E. Waite's 1910 Pictorial Key to the Tarot
  • Sir James Frazer The Golden Bough
  • Hajo Banzhaf, Tarot and the Journey of the Hero (2000)
  • Most works by Joseph Campbell
  • The Book of Thoth (Crowley) by Aleister Crowley
  • G. Ronald Murphy, S.J., The Owl, The Raven, and The Dove: Religious Meaning of the Grimm's Magic Fairy Tales (2000)
  • Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade (1987)
  • Mary Greer, The Women of the Golden Dawn (1994)
  • Merlin Stone, When God Was A Woman (1976)
  • Robert Graves, Greek Mythology (1955)
  • Joan Bunning, Learning the Tarot
  • Juliette Wood, Folklore 109 (1998):15–24, The Celtic Tarot and the Secret Tradition: A Study in Modern Legend Making (1998)

External links[edit]